Q: Can you explain what the Internet blacklist legislation is all about? - Drew
A: SOPA which stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP are IMHO misguided attempts by tech-challenged legislators to create legislation to fight the very real problem of Internet piracy.
The very powerful lobbying groups associated with the recording and motion picture industries have convinced a group of congressmen that they need more powerful laws to fight piracy.
What started out as a way to block foreign websites that are known to host pirated content has morphed into language that would allow copyright holders to potentially shut down an entire website because a single user has violated copyright laws.
There are already plenty of ways that exist for copyright holders to have content removed from websites. We have all experienced some of them when we go to watch a YouTube video and it has a notice that the content has been removed due to copyright infringement.
The way SOPA is currently worded, content owners can go after an entire website, like YouTube, Twitter or Flickr, because a single user has violated its copyright.
The entertainment industry is essentially trying to shift the burden of policing their content to the various websites that might be hosting or directing traffic (like search engines) to their copyrighted content.
On paper, this might make sense to the clueless legislators but in practice, this would fundamentally change the way the Internet works and virtually kill off any innovation on the Internet for fear of prosecution because of how broad the legislation is written.
Twenty-four hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute by hundreds of millions of users; if this law was in place when YouTube was a startup, it would have never made it.
Even worse, the very activity that they claim they are trying to shut down (downloading of copyrighted content from foreign websites) wouldn't be impacted one bit as pirates would simply sidestep their attempts.
Without getting too technical, they propose to create a ‘blacklist' of sites that would no longer resolve via our current DNS (Domain Name Server) system which translates websites into their actual Internet addresses.
For instance, when you type thepiratebay.org into your browser, the DNS system translates it into the actual Internet address which is 188.8.131.52. If you know what thepiratebay.org's IP is, even if they blacklist the site, you simply type in those numbers and you are there!
Within hours of activating the blacklist, thousands of websites would be publishing the IP addresses of every blacklisted site on the Internet, rendering all of this legislation useless (remember all the anti-spam legislation; has it made any difference in your in-box?)
Any teenage wannabe programmer knows this, but our lawmakers don't seem to understand this simple circumvention.
The unintended consequences of this overreaching legislation are the biggest concerns by anyone that understands the fundamental workings of what makes the Internet function.
The industries behind this legislation are trying to convince us that even though they could technically wreak havoc on virtually any website that allows user generated content, they only want these tools to go after really bad criminals.
These are the same guys that used previous legislation to go after a 66-year old retired school teacher that they claimed was a mega-pirate of Snoop Dogg's rap music. She had an old Apple computer that couldn't even run the software that they claimed was used to commit the piracy.
I'm not disputing that piracy of copyrighted material is a serious problem, but this approach to the problem is like going after the phone company because you transacted a drug deal on their phone system.
There's a great video at http://goo.gl/A5Eoo that explains the concerns and the Electronic Freedom Foundation has an easy way for you to voice your opinion to your representatives at http://goo.gl/l9ut2
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.